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An investigation of the cognitive and experiential features of intrusive memories in depression

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Intrusive autobiographical memories of negative past events are a clinical feature common to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Recent investigations provide increasing evidence that shared cognitive processes are linked to the maintenance of intrusive memories in both conditions. Still absent from the existing literature, however, is a systematic examination of the basic content and defining characteristics of intrusive memories in depression. This study sought to: (i) outline the content and features of intrusive memories in depression, and (ii) investigate whether intrusion characteristics linked to the persistence of intrusive memories in PTSD are also characteristic of intrusive memories in depression. A sample of undergraduate students (n=250) were interviewed and assessed for the presence of an intrusive memory in the past week, and completed a battery of measures that indexed cognitive and affective responses to the memory. Consistent with prediction, intrusive memories contained high levels of sensory experience and were marked by a sense of "nowness". In accord with studies with PTSD samples, sensory features accounted for unique variance in the prediction of depression severity, over and above that accounted for by intrusion frequency. This pattern of findings was replicated in a dysphoric (BDI-II≥12) sub-sample of participants. Our results underscore the value of drawing on theoretical conceptualisations and empirical findings from the post-traumatic stress literature to extend our understanding of intrusive memories in depression.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: November 1, 2007

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